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First of all, I’d like to say what an honour it is to be an expert on the newly revived Gas & Air blog. It was this blog (and a Twitter exchange!) that put Clemmie and I in touch with each other many years ago, and led to us meeting for coffee to chat all things pregnancy before she was called off to attend a home birth. We had the privilege of working with many of the same women, and immediately connected over our passion for supporting them in a positive, person-centred way, whatever their journey.

So for my first contribution to the Gas & Air expert corner, I thought I’d introduce you to the concept of hypnobirthing, by busting some myths and answering some of the most commonly asked questions from the women and couples I work with. I hope it gives you some good insight into a programme that isn’t as whacky as it sounds, and look forward to sharing more with you along the way.

Now just what is hypnobirthing?

Hypnobirthing is a simple and logical birth education programme which offers women and their partners the tools for a more calm and comfortable birth. It equips them with the knowledge to make confident and informed decisions, and empowers them through pregnancy, birth and beyond. Hypnobirthing teaches the physiology of birth, the importance of connecting both mind and body, and how fear affects the birthing body and the unborn baby. It introduces couples to the practice of deep relaxation and equips them with tools to use during labour and birth.

There are also some things you should know about what hypnobirthing isn’t.

First, it does not involve what you will think of as hypnosis. That means no pocket watches, no finger clicking, no barking like dogs. Sorry. When we hear the word “hypno” we automatically think of stage hypnosis used for entertainment purposes. In hypnobirthing, we use hypnosis as a deep state of relaxation with a heightened state of mental awareness. Women will remain in control at all times. They will not be in a trance. They will simply have the opportunity (and tools) to remain deeply relaxed and free of physical and emotional tension.

Second, hypnobirthing does not guarantee a “perfect” birth. Why? Because there’s no such thing as a perfect birth. Every single woman in the world will birth her baby differently, because every woman and every baby is completely unique. One woman’s idea of perfect is another woman’s idea of disaster. We also can’t promise a natural birth. Whilst there is a lot we can do to prepare for birth, we can’t dictate how things happen on the day. Sometimes things are straightforward and sometimes special circumstances arise. Either way, hypnobirthing will help you to navigate whatever path your birth takes with calmness and confidence. Couples will have the tools to remain relaxed, make informed decisions and work as a team with their caregivers to create a truly positive birth experience where they feel in control and empowered.

Third, it’s not about telling you how you should birth your baby. Why? Because it doesn’t matter how you birth your baby. It doesn’t matter if you birth in hospital, at home, in a pool, in a car, roaring like a lion or like a little zen monk. It doesn’t matter if you have an epidural, a cesarean, or a free birth in the woods. What I care about, as a hypnobirthing teacher and birth worker, is that women feel fully informed in every decision they make, that they feel confident in their physical and emotional capabilities as a woman, that they trust their birth partner to create and protect a safe environment and to advocate for them, and that they have the knowledge and tools to create an enjoyable, empowering experience where they feel connected with their baby and supported by their caregivers. I care that the women I work with are respected and valued at all times, that they are the person making the best decisions for themselves and their babies and most of all that they realise how absolutely amazing they are!

What kind of effects does hypnobirthing have on a women in labour?
Hypnobirthing has such a huge impact on women in labour. Women who understand how their bodies work during labour are much more equipped to work with the process rather than against it, and releasing fear during pregnancy (a big part of hypnobirthing) means that their mind and bodies work in harmony, resulting in less pain, easier labours and a lower chance of intervention. It also really involves the birth partner, so that a couple are working as a team during labour rather than mum feeling alone and her partner feeling helpless. Perhaps most importantly, it gives a couple the confidence to make informed decisions and calmly navigate situations, even when they take unexpected turns.

How do women feel after using hypnobirthing?
Euphoric, empowered, proud, connected. These are words I hear a lot from the women I teach when they tell me about their births. Regardless of how their baby enters the world, if they have had the tools to remain calm and the confidence to make informed decisions along the way, they are so much more likely to have an experience they consider to be positive, and that inevitably contributes to a more relaxed and enjoyable start to their journey as a mother.

Why are women looking for the tools to have a natural birth?
I think birth trends are always changing with society’s views and the media’s portrayal of women’s health and motherhood. Perhaps women are reverting to more natural birth options because we are becoming more empowered and educated in general. I think many women are beginning to question the over medicalisation of a normal physiological process, and this is pushed forward when they hear their peers talking about positive birth experiences rather than horror stories. Our focus must be on normalising childbirth and putting the power back in the woman’s hands rather than dumping her in a conveyor belt system where she feels passive and out of control. When women are moving towards this in every other aspect of society, it seems appropriate that it should apply to birth – the most primal female experience – too.

Top tips for a woman preparing for the birth of her baby?
Do a hypnobirthing course. It will be the best money you spend and is an amazing investment in not only your birth, but your journey as a mother. In terms of labour, try and make your environment as nest-like as possible. As mammals, we birth best when we feel private, safe and unobserved, so think about making your birth environment dark and relaxing. Use essential oils to calm the senses, and create a birth playlist of music that will make you feel happy and loved. Really spend time talking about the birth you want with your partner beforehand – that way they can advocate for what you want and confidently protect your space and communicate with caregivers on your behalf. The more you can switch off that conscious part of your brain, the more easily you will relax and produce the hormones you need for labour to progress comfortably and efficiently. Most of all, trust your instincts and have the confidence to ask questions and take your time making decisions. I always advise couples to use the BRAIN acronym (benefits, risks, alternatives, instinct, nothing) when making any decisions during labour, as this will ensure you’re able to make an informed decision with all the facts you need in front of you. Understanding your labour, including any unexpected turns it may take, is what leads to a positive and empowering experience, and that is something every single woman deserves.

What’s the best way to learn more about hypnobirthing?

If you can afford to do a full hypnobirthing course I would highly recommend it. I run courses in South East London, and have a wonderful group of teachers offering my syllabus in and around other parts of London. Visit londonhypnobirthing.co.uk to find out more or follow us on Instagram at @theyesmumbirthproject. If you’re further afield, then The Hypnobirthing Association is a good place to find qualified teachers, but the most important thing is to find the right teacher for you. Everyone has their own style of teaching, so it’s well worth calling and speaking to teachers to find someone you get a good feel for. If you don’t have the time or money to go on a full course, or if you’ve come to it later in the day then I have a home-study course that’s delivered in bite-sized audios that you can listen to any time and any where. You can read more about that at tinyurl.com/theYMBP or get stuck into my book, Your Baby, Your Birth, which is available on Amazon and in book shops.